Hold Your Babies

sc009c7364As I lay in bed last night, waiting for the Ambien to kick in, ruminating about my poverty situation, I heard sirens. They sounded close so I looked outside. Something down the street. I went back to bed, more sirens, then also saw helicopter spotlights spilling into our bedroom. 

I looked out the living room window, with a view of the street we live on and suddenly there were over 10 fire trucks about a block from our apartment. Under the street lamps, I could see smoke vapors.  I put on my shoes and went to the fire escape, with a better view of our street. Sure enough, a building was on fire. Which one, I didn’t know. 

I asked Eric if he wanted to go check it out with me. He declined. I put on a t-shirt and grabbed my phone.  Neighbors were spilling out onto our street, it was like a carnival: flashing lights, flurry of activity, confusion.

Once on the street, I saw there were 20, maybe 25, fire trucks, dozens of firemen focused on one task or another.  Probably 100 residents gathered and walked the street, now completely closed off by policeman. I conversed with folks I knew. What happened? I don’t know. Which building is it? 

By the time I was on the street, all flames had been extinguished. There was still residual smoke. Also, it appeared that firemen were continuing to evacuate people from the 3 buildings in close proximity to each other.

The Gladys Kravitz in me was in heaven. So much drama. I took picture after picture. I took pictures of the fire trucks and the helicopter and the people watching.  I felt like Diane Arbus. I am documenting the SHIT out of this, I thought to myself.

The entrance of the building across the street had a high staircase so I climbed to the top to take more pictures. Better view. Two guys stood next to me talking. 

“It looks like the firemen are trying to give CPR to a dog over there,” one said to the other.

“Dog?” I interrupted.

“Yeah, it’s too small to be a person.”

Sure enough, I looked in the direction he pointed. 8 large firemen were huddled over something, what, I could not see, and they pumped away.

I moved to get closer, trying to get a clear view. I could see the men but I couldn’t see what they were working on.   If it is a dog, I probably know this dog, this is my neighborhood, I thought.

They worked for several minutes and finally another fireman brought a white sheet over and covered whatever it was. I was surprised and heartened by how vigilantly they tried to save this creature. 

The high that I experienced when I first stumbled onto the scene was gone. I know this probably is going to sound bad, but if you are a dog person, you might be forgiving: I wondered if I felt worse or better knowing it was a probably a dog instead of a person. (Can I blame this on the Ambien?)

I walked back to the house. Eric and the dogs were sitting on the couch, watching a Guthy-Renker infomercial. I relayed all that I’d witnessed. I hugged the dogs a little extra. 

“It was so sad,” I told Eric. He agreed. Eric went to bed, as did the dogs. For some reason, I felt compelled to Instagram a few pictures I’d taken. (More Diane Arbus illusions.). Eventually I made my way to bed, and finally, to sleep.

This morning my friend Glenny texted to see if the fire she heard about had been near us. She’d heard that a dog had died. I looked up the news and sure enough, it was the fire on my street. A woman was injured and her pet dog was not able to be saved.

I was glad that I knew what happened, how the story ended, but of course, I thought about the woman and her dog all day. Perhaps more details will be revealed, at this moment, I don’t know the name of the woman or her dog. I have concluded, perhaps incorrectly, that the woman was older and that she lived alone. A family of two.

Before Ricky and Millie, and of course, Eric came into my life, for a while anyway, I was a family of two. The first dog I got in my adulthood was a spaniel mix that looked like a caramel sundae. In fact, when I drank, I called her my little caramel sundae. Her name was Lucy. In the years before I adopted Mandy, all we had was each other. We walked to Larchmont Village together almost every morning. We took road trips, she loved visits to the beach. She was something special. I love all my dogs, my boyfriend too, but sometimes I think I might have loved Lucy most of all, because she was my first and the one I needed the most.

If you’re reading this, maybe you had a Lucy. Or a Mandy or a Millie or a Ricky, or even an Eric. (How lucky I am to share my life with a person who takes it as a compliment to be clumped in with a bunch of dogs.) Family is family, whether it’s big or small, human or otherwise. So tonight, I say a prayer for my neighbor, a woman I know little about but can’t help but feel a connection to. I am sorry about the passing of your dog, your Lucy. My prayer for you is peace and that the good memories will be a comfort in the days and weeks and years to come. God bless the beasts and the children and those of us who’ve loved them, too.

Us Vs. Them

tim-tebowIf you’ve met my Mom, you no doubt love her. She is a sweet little lady with a big heart. She is also a Christian and, like most Christians, she makes her decisions by asking herself, “What would Jesus do?” 

Yesterday, my Mom shared on Facebook something that someone named AskDrBrown posted about Caitlyn Jenner. It was a picture of Tim Tebow, in heroic profile, with the caption, “The people who are applauding Bruce Jenner for ‘being himself’ are the same people who condemned Tim Tebow and told him to ‘keep his beliefs to himself.'” 

Let me be clear, this is not about my Mom and me. I don’t think that she posted this comment about someone in the LGBT community to hurt my feelings. I think that as a Christian she probably feels that the Liberal Left is often persecuting and judging the Religious Right. Certainly this kind of contempt that we see on places like Facebook and Twitter and in the media go both ways.  And I see what she posted as her way of saying, “I am a Christian.” I respect that.

Of course, I thought quite a bit about what she posted all day yesterday. I wrote about it in June, but there is a part of me, that when I see people write negative things about Caitlyn Jenner’s identity, I somehow take it personally. (I’m not saying that kind of sensitivity is a good thing.)

An aside here, I like Tim Tebow. I mean, I certainly don’t know as much about him as I know about, say, Bethenny Frankel, but he seems to me like a decent Christian guy, trying to glorify God in the way he lives his life. He does not go out of his way to say homophobic or transphobic things, that I know of, anyway. And, because I AM gay, I have noticed that he is quite handsome, in my humble opinion.

The thing that I found myself really thinking about yesterday was not my Mother, but this AskDrBrown who originally posted the transphobic/Caitlyn-phobic comment in the first place. It’s a classic effort to polarize the world we live in: Liberals vs. Christians, LGBT vs. Conservatives. While I don’t think my Mother had malice in her repost, I do sense that, for AskDrBrown, cruelty was part of his intent. Why else would he refer to Caitlyn as both “Bruce Jenner” and in the male pronoun? Whether AskDrBrown thinks Caitlyn is going to heaven or not, it’s unkind, heartless, petty, judgemental and provincial to not respect a person’s wishes of how they would like to be addressed. 

I know that, in a way, it truly is Us vs. Them. This social dichotomy is one of the themes that runs through my entire blog. I grew up conservative, identify as liberal in adulthood. I have many people close to me that are big cheerleaders on each side.  Sides exist and probably they are necessary. But I also think that this Us. vs. Them pathology has its problems too. And let me be the first to admit my own guilt.

My 30th high school reunion is coming up next summer. I am planning to attend. I think. I enjoyed our 20 year reunion but back then, none of us were on Facebook, we didn’t know exactly how we all landed politically, and spiritually, and socially. No one had seen pictures of Eric and me at pride festivals. I hadn’t seen pictures of classmates with the deer they just shot. By the time next year’s reunion rolls around, I will probably have a clear handle, from each classmate, about who plans to vote for Hillary, who plans to vote for Bernie, who plans to vote for Jeb and also, yikes, who plans to vote for Trump. Can I really spend an evening or a weekend reminiscing with someone wearing a Trump/Cosby ’16 t-shirt and ball cap? Do my classmates really want to see the choreography I do when Taylor Swift’s Welcome to New York starts playing? Well, I hope so, because WE ARE THE CLASS OF ’86. And we have history and memories and shared laughs and shared tears. We have our differences, yes, but hopefully, for a weekend anyway, we will only focus on what we share. Right?

I hope that a little good can come out of AskDrBrown’s mean spirited Facebook post, and that is that I can be a little kinder, a little less polarizing. We are all in this together, the conservatives, the liberals, the football players, the decathletes, the doctors, the restaurant hosts, the deer hunters, the Meryl Streep superfans, the Kansas moms, the Real Housewives. It is not Us vs. Them, merely We.

Dining Out

shutterstock-senior-coupleOkay, I hope you’re going to side with me on this one. I’m not ageist, if anything I believe people should be held accountable for their actions at every age. You don’t get a free civility pass just because you’re almost 80. But, maybe I’m getting ahead of myself.

After seeing Trainwreck at Westside Pavilion yesterday, Eric and I decided to go to Islands for dinner. We walked in as a host was seating a party. The hostess was on the phone and it took a few minutes for her to see that new parties had come in. Following us into the restaurant was a VERY SPRY woman in her late 70s, her husband in tow. She told him to go sit down at one of the chairs set out for waiting guests. He resisted, she insisted, and then he did as she said, probably not for the first time. 

Eventually the hostess noticed the four of us standing (well, most of us were standing) in front of her. I watched to see if the old lady was going to say, “They were first.” And you know me, you know that if she had, I would have insisted, “Oh no, YOU go first. We aren’t in a hurry.” And then all of us could have walked away from the exchange with hope that there are still at least four, five if you count the hostess, good people left in this mucked up world.

As you might have surmised, that is not what transpired. Instead, she SMIRKED at me then launched into her demands of where she and her husband could and could not sit.  The hostess started to take her to a booth and she snapped, “Are you going to close the blinds??? We can’t sit there. It’s sunny!” 

I don’t like people being rude to me but I also don’t like people being rude to people who work in restaurants. And I do have a teeny bit of a soft spot for old people, really I do. 

I interjected at this point, too loudly, if I must assess my own performance, with, “Actually, we were here before they were.” 

“Oh I’m sorry,” the hostess apologized. 

“You have nothing to apologize for, you didn’t know that she cut in front of us. Go ahead and seat her, she clearly has more ‘requirements’ than we do.” And yes, I did make the quote gesture when I bellowed the word “requirements”.

“I DO have more requirements,” she countered. And then she continued her negotiation to get the best table in all of The Russian Tea Room, I mean, the Islands on Pico. 

The hostess and this woman finally agreed on a table and as they exited the host area, the husband, toddling along after her turned to me and offered his own apology. “I’m very sorry.” 

“Sir, you weren’t the one who cut,” I offered in a tone that I hope was not as terse as I remember it.  And then he followed his wife to the table.

I told Eric I was going to the bathroom and while I was in there, I thought  to myself, I’m not finished with this. I’m going to go find her table and chew her out a little more. Why did she think she had the right to cut the line? Because she was old? Because she was white? Because her husband was frail?

I came out of the bathroom and found Eric seated at, truth be told, not the most ambient section in this particular Islands. He was kind of worked up about what had transpired as well. “I’m going to tell her off!! I’m going to go find her at that table and tell her people can’t act like that!!”  (I’ve said it before, but we are a fairly dramatic household. And our dogs are even more quarrelsome than we are.)

“No, you can’t go there.”

“I’m going.”

“Eric, I mean, she’s horrible, but think of her poor husband. He was so embarrassed, the sad way he said, ‘I’m very sorry.’ You can’t.”

And he didn’t. And we changed the subject, moved on to assessing and praising the movie we’d just seen. (15 minutes too long and a little manipulatively sad, but overall, we liked it.) 

And while we praised LeBron James for his comedic chops and complained about how we really don’t like Colin Quinn, I couldn’t stop thinking about this old couple. And by old couple, I mean me, because really, why did an old lady cutting in line at a restaurant make my blood boil like that?

I know very little about her, even less about her husband. Maybe they’d just come from the doctor, received bad news, and the husband said, “Honey, I want one last mai-tai before I die.” And she said, “Mort, sweetie, I’m taking you to Islands and I don’t care who I have to but in front of to make sure you don’t have to sit at a table with the sun blinding you.” Maybe he said, “You know, honey, I do like Islands, but with this dire diagnosis, do you think maybe we could go to Trader Vic’s?” And because she is planning a surprise 80th birthday for him AT TRADER VIC’S, in just two weeks, which after their doctor appointment, she’s realized will likely be his last, she told him wearily, “No, Mort, I don’t have it in me to go to Trader Vic’s tonight, but I promise, we will go there SOON.” And you know, maybe just maybe, a few seconds before they’d walked into Islands, she gave him a soft kiss on his bald forehead and whispered, “I love you, Cuddles.”

Don’t judge her because her pet name for her husband of 60 years is Cuddles. What makes you think your pet name for your significant other is so great?

And maybe, there is a greater lesson about judgement for me, because who really knows what was going on there? Did she cut in line? Well, yes, but maybe she just did it for love. Also, maybe she’s just a really selfish person. And maybe she’s been badgering that poor guy since Eisenhower was in office. Who really knows? Not me.

What I do know is that, in 30 years, if Eric and I are still kicking and still together, I hope the most ambulatory of the two of us will do everything in his power to attain the nicest table for our dining adventures, whether on 57th or Pico, or any Marie Callender’s in between. There are many things that reveal love and I’d say that is one of them.

Guest Blogger, Hilary Hattenbach: One L or 2?

I want to thank each person who has written and shared their “bullying” story. (And please keep them coming.) It’s been an interesting endeavor because everyone’s story is different and yet, of course, there are common themes.  I think feeling like an outsider and seeing others as being more included are both just part of the human condition. Even now, I think of my bullies and marvel, did they ever feel like outsiders too? At some point, they must have.

9 year old meMy friend Hilary, a cookbook author and blogger too, shared a childhood story and sent it with the qualification, “it’s wasn’t exactly bullying per se.” And well, I can kind of seeing how it might not be bullying PER SE, but it does seem to be needlessly cruel. And not to give away the ending, but a little mysterious too.

I asked Hilary if she had a picture of herself from around that time and of course, that is the picture that accompanies this story. Just a sweet little girl, trying to figure it out, trying to make new friends in a new situation.

One L or 2?

When I was nine-years-old, Ma married a nuclear physicist. Shortly after that, we abandoned our beloved, long-in-tooth West Hollywood rental for a boxy, personality-free apartment in Beverly Hills. I’d been attending Rosewood Elementary, a public school where I loved all the teachers, had a diverse mix of friends, and often stayed after school as a teacher’s helper. Up until that point, I was a relatively happy-go-lucky kid. We were broke, my parents were divorced, and my dad was barely in the picture. But I was a big “bright-sider,” often telling jokes, drawing, and trying to cheer up Ma who struggled to raise two kids without child support. Despite how difficult things were, they never seemed that bad. That is, until we moved to Beverly Hills. 


Right around this same time, my ten-year-old brother, Chris, realized that his lengthy campaign to get our parents back together had gone down the crapper. “I’m moving in with Dad!” he announced. 


“Fine. Go live with your father. You two deserve each other!” Ma said.


And thus began our wildly divergent Prince and The Pauper-type journeys. I was enrolled in Beverly Vista, a foreboding, brick structure of a school where every kid got dropped off in a shiny, foreign car. Chris went to live at Pop’s studio bachelor pad in West Hollywood and stayed at Rosewood. I got stuck with a bunch of spoiled, rich, nine-year-old a-holes while Chris palled around with juvenile delinquents and only went to school when he felt like it. At the time, it seemed like he got the better end of the deal. In retrospect, not so much. 


On my first day at Beverly Vista, I met another girl in my homeroom named Hilary. It was a bit like meeting a unicorn. Back then, the name was pretty rare, akin to “Apple,” “North,” or “Latte” now. And this Hilary was fancy. She rolled up to me in a white rabbit fur coat, brown hair cascading down to her shoulders like a mini Charlie’s Angel. A couple of her friends stood behind her for backup. “One L or Two?” she asked.


“One,” I said, hoping that she had two because everyone knew that two L’s was the pedestrian spelling of the name, Hilary. My mom told me that. Even if I was wearing plaid hand-me-down knickers with Snoopy knee socks, the superior spelling of my name surely trumped her flawlessness. 


“Me too.” She flipped her hair and flashed a knowing smile at her friends. 


Since it ended up being a draw in the L battle, I thought we had bonded. Two Hilarys with one L in the same class! What were the odds? We’d be the best of the pals.

Maybe she’d let me borrow her fur jacket and show me how to get the frizzes out of my hair. I imagined the hilarious hijinks that would ensue any time the teacher called on “Hilary”


“Which one??” we’d say in unison and break down in hysterical laughter. But alas, that initial confrontation was the last time I ever exchanged words with Fancy Hilary. She continued her reign as the only true “Hilary,” ignoring my very existence as did most of the other kids at the school. And when I think back, ignoring someone is probably one of the cruelest types of bullying that exists because it renders one completely invisible. 


For the first time in my life, I felt utterly alone. At Rosewood, my quirky, artistic persona fit right in with my classmates. Most of us were being raised by a single parent and money was scarce. At Beverly Vista, a school that reeked of privilege, I felt like I’d crash-landed my broke-ass spaceship on a hostile planet. 


Then one day, in my giant and immaculate homeroom with large windows spraying LA sunshine on the backs of our heads, the teacher led the class in a calligraphy lesson. Yes, part of the fourth grade curriculum was to learn the very useful fine art of Japanese lettering. I noticed a quiet Japanese girl in front of me essentially crushing the assignment. She flicked her wrist with ease, creating beautiful black brush strokes on the parchment. I craned my neck to look at her paper and commented on how amazing it was. Her name was Yuko. 

Yuko, a perfectionist who never had a rumple on her pressed cotton pants, became my first friend at Beverly Vista and quickly introduced me to her bestie, Kanae (pronounced Can I – emphasis on “can”.) Kanae was heavier-set and more of a gabber like me. In a sea of white faces, Yuko and Kanae, were the oddballs, the outcasts. We quickly bonded over our similar plights and became inseparable. The three of us all freaking loved Sanrio. We traded stickers and admired each other’s collections. We went sticker shopping, ate lunch together, and gossiped about other kids at school. Having a couple of friends made life in Beverly Hills finally bearable. But then something changed.


I came to school one morning and Yuko wouldn’t talk to me. Later, when I saw Kanae on the playground, she marched ahead as if she couldn’t see me. In class, I tapped Yuko on the shoulder. I called her name. But she just sat staring forward, her perfect posture rigid in her wooden chair. I stared at her short ponytail, waiting for it to turn but it never budged. It was like “It’s a Wonderful Life.” As if somehow I’d never been born and life as I knew it had completely vanished. At recess, I approached them, I asked them what happened, and I was sorry if I had done something wrong. But like Jimmy Stewart desperately shouting at the people who can’t hear him or see him, the two friends acted like I wasn’t there. They just talked to each other until I walked away. I tried for days to get them to forgive me for something I didn’t even know I had done but they never came around. And so after a few days, I gave up. 

At home I sat in the closet in my room and cried. For hours I sobbed and tried to replay everything I had done and said to Yuko and Kanae to make them suddenly hate me. Ma called me for dinner and when I didn’t answer, she sent the physicist to look for me. He opened the closet door, saw me sitting there in the dark and shouted, “She’s in the closet.” Not knowing what to do, he awkwardly shuffled off, leaving me there to sulk. 


I remember this time as my first foray into total inconsolable sadness. It seemed that Yuko and Kanae had broken my heart though it was probably intensified by the veritable trifecta of Ma getting remarried, my brother moving away, and starting at a new school where everyone hated me. I never made another friend at that school. When the year mercifully ended, we moved to a new house in the valley and my brother came back to live with us. I made friends easily at the new school and normalcy returned. 


Unfortunately, my stepdad got transferred a year later and I had to once again start at a new school. It was something I did over and over again as kid and I can only say that after Beverly Vista, I honed my ability to recognize “my people.” I never had another Yuko and Kanae experience. I did have some thuggish guys push me in the school cafeteria but it was nothing compared to the psychological warfare waged on me by a couple of nine-year-olds. Their unflappable ability to completely freeze me out still haunts me to this day. It’s something I’d never wish on anyone.

Guest Blogger, Linda Bailey Walsh: There are Many Ways to Save a Life

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This is a picture of my friend Linda when she was in grade school. Cute kid, huh? I asked her to write a guest blog, to expound on something she said on Facebook last week about the Caitlyn Jenner controversy. She wrote this blog and as you will read, she shares some childhood experiences, things that you don’t like to think about your friends having to experience. And yet, Linda survived. Survived and thrived. She is the beautiful adult in the other picture, but it’s the kid pic that I can’t stop thinking about. She tugs at my heart strings. I think we might all have a lot more empathy for folks we disagreed with if we found a picture of them at 6 and looked at that for a few minutes. Just an idea. Anyway, here is Linda’s guest blog, I hope it will touch your heart the way to touched mine.

There are Many Ways to Save a Life

I had the amusing realization this week that if you haven’t spoken with me in a while or if we only know each other from social media most likely you would assume I am gay. The reason why is because I often post about LGBT issues as well as women’s issues. I am unapologetic about this. I am passionate about them. I try not to take the bait and post about straight up politics but when it comes to equality and civil rights. I can’t keep quiet. After all, not speaking up is usually the number one reason that prejudice and discrimination are able to thrive.

For the record, I am not gay so, I’ll never truly know what it feels like to be gay or transgender but, I do know what it’s like to feel an “otherness”. I was a weird kid. Passionate about the arts and performing pretty much from birth. I read Edgar Allen Poe for fun in 3rd grade and stayed in one of 3 characters all day everyday when I was 4 (Barbie, Miss Flowers & Gypsy. I would tell you who I was that day and only answer to that name. ) Later there would be liquid eyeliner drawn in vines around my eyes to compliment my Mohawk. I was lucky enough to be born into an awesome family but still I know that often they didn’t know what to make of me. We are children of longshoreman who play sports and cheer. We do not practice Iambic Pentameter for fun.

I experienced my share of being bullied or just plain ostracized which for me, was worse. Before the punk rock phase I looked like an average kid but what was inside of me always shone through and kids can sniff out someone who’s different like canaries in a coalmine.

Luckily as I got older I found my tribe. The Artists, the Activists, the Fun and the Fierce. There is nothing in the world like realizing you are not alone.

In time the things that made me different became the things I grew to love most about myself. As corny as it may sound I know now that those are the things that make me special.
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I also remember everyone that ever stood up for me when I was down. Christine Angelucci protected me in Elementary school when I had to constantly find a new route home to avoid getting beaten up. Holly Arnold standing up to a cheerleading coach who was bullying me, my future brother in law Sean Smith having a talk with a boy who told me just how ugly he thought I was in front of an entire class. My parents, my sisters, the list goes on and on.

And as an adult I have been fortunate to be surrounded by amazingly loving and inspiring people. This includes the family I was born into and the one that I made out in the world. People (often LGBT) who made me dinner while I nursed a heart that felt irreparably shattered. Those who inspired me to be better in my work and my life. People have saved me on many days and in many ways just by being there, loving me and saying “I understand. I’ve been there. You are not alone.”

So this last week we met Caitlyn Jenner. I’m proud that most of the response I bore witness to was very positive. Of course it wasn’t all positive. I can understand confusion and even fear so long as it is balanced with kindness. After all this is an extraordinarily new situation for most people. What truly puzzled me is the people who felt somehow attacked, that to support Caitlyn in her journey somehow was an insult to others. Most specifically I am speaking of the word Hero. Many revered Caitlyn for sharing her story and immediately there was backlash, a wave of photos of Soldiers, Firefighters & Police with statements proclaiming them the real heroes. I would not for one second assert that they are not heroes. Of course, of course, of course they are heroes. I truly can’t imagine the bravery in their hearts and I am sincerely grateful for it. My question is this: Why can’t two good things exist simultaneously? There are different ways to be heroic. Why does something have to be bad for something else to be good? One does not diminish the other. There are many ways to save a life. There is no limited admission to the “Good”.

I know that Jenner is a very wealthy, privileged person. Trust me, if I am defending anyone who has anything to do with the Kardashian’s I must feel very strongly! However like Ellen DeGeneres who struggled for almost a decade after coming out, she is still putting herself and her livelihood at great personal risk but, these are the people that need to come forward. I can promise you that for every Jenner there are multitudes that do not have the resources or the support that she does. For those people, often living in fear and isolation it can literally mean life or death to know that someone else exists that is like them and better yet, is thriving.

People say Caitlyn’s story is personal. It is but she has chosen to share it and I truly believe in my soul that there is someone out there who will find hope, possibly lifesaving hope in that story and I find that to be heroic.

Again for me, all it took to make this life worth living was finding my people and the ones who stood up for me and stood with me saying…”I understand. I have been there. You are not alone.” True heroes to me.

Indeed, there are many ways to save a life.

Call Me Caitlyn

caitlyn-jenner-boobs-060115I had a hard time falling asleep last night, many things on my mind.  One of the things bouncing around my pea brain was all the turmoil around Caitlyn Jenner that I noticed on Facebook yesterday.  Certainly, she was all over the news on Monday, but it was not until yesterday that I noticed several of my Facebook friends picked up and shared the story about her receiving the Arthur Ashe Courage Award from ESPN.  It wasn’t until later in the day that I understood what had transpired.  After ESPN announced the award’s recipient on Monday, several people suggested that someone named Noah Galloway, an Iraq war veteran, amputee, motivational speaker and Dancing with the Stars contestant, should have won the award.  If you are reading this and think I am only talking about you, please understand I saw several comments from people I know and people I don’t know claiming that Bruce Jenner could not possibly be a hero.

I wrote a little something on my Facebook wall, that I thought it careless and cruel to invalidate Jenner’s experience that because she is not a war veteran, her story has no value. Of course, most of the people who commented hold similar viewpoints as me. A couple of people stated that they did not see Jenner as a hero, which lends the question, what defines a hero anyway?

On Sunday, I was interviewed for a project, which I can’t really say too much about at this point in time. One of the things that came up in this interview was how playing the victim was a recurring storyline in my life. I asked the interviewer, “Why do you think that is?” He suggested that maybe, because I knew even as a child, that if I was gay, I could be rejected by my family and everyone I knew, it might have somehow set a course for my life. It seems incredible to me, but there really are boys and girls growing up today that aren’t taught at an early age, that there is something wrong with who they are in their core. For me, the message I received from church, school, family and peers was clear, do not grow up to be gay. And you know, I’m still a work in progress, but it seems it is possible that that fear of rejection has played a part in my adult refrain of always seeing myself as an outsider, trying to claw my way into acceptance and love.

Bruce Jenner’s story is different than mine, as is Caitlyn’s. One of the things that inspires me about Caitlyn is that she hopes she will be a better person than Bruce was. It inspires me because I have my own moments in my yesterdays that I am ashamed of. I’d like to be a better person in the future than I was in my past. On Monday, I did not think to myself, Call Me Caitlyn. But this morning is a new day. This morning I realized why yesterday’s anti-Caitlyn comments frustrated me. That it took me so long to make the connection is a startling reminder of how slow on the uptake I can be. I am Caitlyn. I am not an Olympic gold medal winner, I am not a reality star, I am not transgender woman, but we are connected. If Caitlyn puts the T in LGBT, goodness knows how much G I put in it. And I love my little umbrella, my L’s, my G’s, my B’s, my T’s. We were all, most of us anyway, just little kids growing up somewhere, afraid that the world would reject us if they knew our secrets.

To be honest, one thing that Caitlyn’s journey has reminded me of is that some of the world will hate you when they find out your secret. But others will lend their support and, if you are strong enough, you will make it. You will thrive. Maybe you will even become a hero. Yes, there might be some disagreement as to whether or not you actually are a hero, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t one.

Guest Blogger, David Dillon

The Music Man Finale

Families can be a tricky thing.  Ideally, from the time you are little, they should be your first and strongest support system.  Sometimes they are, sometimes they aren’t.

I’ve written often about my time performing in the play Party, it was truly one of the most magical times of my life.  I did the play in Los Angeles, Miami and San Francisco, and suffice to say, every city bore its own adventures.   One of the plays many gifts was getting to know funny, talented people, many of whom are still in my life, among them Party‘s playwright, David Dillon.   While we lost touch for a few years, through the magic of Facebook, we are reconnected.  And I am glad, because he always has a perceptive, droll take on just about every topic,  He told me he had a bullying story, this one is about family, and I feel quite honored that he has shared it here.  Thank you, David.

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Way before I was born, my father’s parents purchased some property along the lake on Chicago’s south side. There were two lots … one with a single family home and right next door, a beautiful three story apartment building with one large apartment on each floor and a smaller basement apartment. My father had been one of seven children, so the idea was that the grandparents would live in the house and then inexpensively rent the apartments out to those of their kids and their families who wanted to live nearby.

My mother, father, sister and I lived on the third floor. The apartments were huge by today’s standards and right behind our building was Rainbow Beach. Our yard butted right up to the park and just a few steps beyond was one of the most popular beaches in Chicago. I used to love to sit on our enclosed back porch and listen to the sounds of summer as I watched the sailboats dotting the lake in the distance. Maybe it is the Piscean in me, but I have always been soothed by the sounds of water and the crashing of the Lake Michigan waves were about the most wonderful sounds I have ever heard. It was a paradise for kids and I remember being blissfully happy there in my youngest years.

In the first floor apartment lived a favorite aunt and uncle and a wonderful flock of cousins. My uncle was an art dealer and there was a cultured and civilized manner about both him and my aunt that always attracted me. My parents never needed to find an outside babysitter either; we had a built in roster of sitters all throughout the building. Home was a safe, care free and cheerful place.

My happiness turned to deep sadness, though, when that arm of our family announced that they would be moving to Tacoma, Washington. I couldn’t imagine life without them.

Now, by this time, I had already showed signs of not being interested in typical “boy” stuff. I had no use whatsoever for sports or the roughhousing that was common among my peers.

I had discovered musicals when I was five (what you might call a Dead Giveaway) and was obsessed with “The Music Man.” My bedroom was decorated with photos of Shirley Jones placed in the frames that my sister’s Barbie clothes came in. We somewhere have a small piece of film of me at Christmastime wearing a “Music Man” outfit my maternal Grandmother made for me and singing my little heart out. I was way more interested in escaping to my fantasy world listening to my musical LPs than I was in anything a Normal Boy would do. The world of musicals was always a magic place for me. It still is. And it saved me from what would have otherwise been a completely dark stretch of years.
The Music Man 2
As it turned out, my favorite first floor family was replaced by my least favorite of my father’s brother’s families and paradise soon turned into hell.

This group of cousins had no interest in anything but sports and they took note of my lack of interest early on and with a vengeance. I became the target of ruthless bullying and believe me, the pain of being bullied is made all the worse when it comes from family. They called me a sissy, taunted me and treated me so horribly that the home that used to be my safe place soon became the place I was scared to be. I stayed indoors whenever I could instead of being out in the yard or around the front porch for fear of encountering them. I hated being there and I hated these interlopers for ruining the place I so used to love.

I also began to hate who I was. I wanted desperately to be the kind of boy everyone expected me to be. Not because I craved “boy” things like sports, but because my life would just have been easier. I was made to feel like something was dreadfully wrong with me and I became engulfed by the loneliest kind of sadness.

An interesting thing – this family apparently felt that gender roles only applied to boys. I say that because one of the young girls in that family was a Textbook Tomboy. She behaved more like a boy than I did and she and one of her brothers were the two who were the most mean to me. But I never saw anyone tease her or prod her into putting on a dress and playing with dolls. No one told Textbook Tomboy to put down the baseball bat. Astonishingly, it never occurred to anyone that she was actually the gender skewed “girl” version of me. I wish I had been articulate enough then to have pointed out both the irony and the hypocrisy, but I just suffered in silence.

It may come as no surprise that I still have an extreme aversion to sports. They always represented my oppressors. Even now, fifty years later, I struggle to get past that.

Skip ahead almost forty years. Out of the blue one day, I got an email from the second oldest son of the family I so wished had never come to South Shore Drive. He was actually the best of the bunch, so I welcomed getting back in touch with him. In one of his first emails to me, however, he revealed that Textbook Tomboy had come out as a lesbian in adulthood. (Quelle surprise!) But, he was very quick to add that with the help of therapy and God, she was able to be cured, to rid herself of that existence and become straight.

Unfuckingbelievable.

What he had to say hit the very core of why I despised those cousins and could easily have triggered what my Facebook friends now call a “David rant.” But instead, I let it go. There was simply no point. This family would never “get it” and I would only be beating my head against a wall.

If that had been an end to it, I’d have let it all alone and moved on with the knowledge that some people will just never change and that was just a fact of life.

You can imagine how surprised I was to next get an email from the Textbook Tomboy Former Lesbian Bully Cousin who had been so cruel to me when we were kids. She wanted to apologize for how she treated me growing up and said that she often throughout her life thought about those days and her behavior towards me with regret. She hoped I would forgive her.

I can honestly say that I would have had a different response had one of two things been true. If she had accepted who she really was and was living life as a lesbian, I’d have forgiven her. I understand the psychology of closeted and fearful youth. Or, if she had even simply lived her life as a straight woman (if she truly WAS straight) who looked back at a kind of childhood behavior she was ashamed of, I’d have also forgiven her.

But, this “Former Lesbian” stuff didn’t allow me to be generous. By seeking out ways to be “fixed,” she and her family were once again, decades later, affirming that who gay people are (meaning me) is fundamentally wrong and obviously sick. The conversion therapy she believed in and that her family celebrated as her salvation is a lie. It is a lifeline clung to in desperation by self loathing fags and dykes who despise themselves for who they are.

I felt their judgment again and with the same sting as when we were kids and it enraged me. They had made it clear so many years ago that my not being the kind of boy they thought I should be made me an aberration. Now, she had been “saved” from the Evils of Lesbianism and her family thanked God for delivering her from such a wretched existence.

That did it. I was no longer going to let her or her family off the hook for what they did to me.

So, I wrote her back.

I told her how scarred I still was from her treatment of me. I told her how she took a place I loved and turned it into a place where I lived frightened rather than happy. I told her how she made me hate myself for not being the person she thought I should be and how she robbed me of a beloved part of my childhood. Finally, I told her to look to her God for forgiveness, for she wouldn’t get any from me.

Damn, it felt good.

Now, a number of people in my life have told me that I hold on to things for too long, that I need to learn how to forgive. They tell me this not for the sake of those who have wronged me, but for my sake. They tell me it sets you free. They might have a point. My father committed suicide when I was thirteen and I still have not completely forgiven him and that has colored every moment of my life since. And no betrayal by a friend or lover ever goes forgotten.

So, a couple of years ago, for better or worse I took the High Road. I sent the Former Lesbian a message on Facebook and told her I forgive her. But, no, I didn’t do it for her. I did it because I refuse to let what she did to me so long ago still have a hold on me. As long as I clung to the state of being unforgiving, I was acknowledging her power over me and my life. I had to let it go.

What I know is that I have something she will never have – the knowledge that I am living life truthfully and proudly as the person I am. The miserable little boy who didn’t know who he was and was made to feel “wrong” is an open and out gay man who unapologetically and joyfully embraces his identity. And, the Textbook Tomboy Former Lesbian Bully Cousin is as lost a creature as has ever walked the earth, though she will never see, admit or come to terms with that. She would, in fact, deny that to her dying breath. And so, she will never know the peace of loving and accepting herself in total honestly.

So, I win.

Meeee